Electricity, gas and oil have, to some extent, superseded solid fuel as a means of heating – and where fireplaces were originally planned for rooms in the home, these may have become obsolete, in which case they can be removed. The techniques involved are well within the capacity of the DIY person, as long as the necessary precautions are taken to seal off the original area and provisions made to install adequate ventilation to avoid problems of damp.
A disused fireplace can be an eyesore and take up valuable space; it may also create a focal point which distracts from the room’s décor. You can give a room a new look by removing the fireplace. blocking it up and blending in the area with the rest of the room.
If you tackle the job in easy stages, it is not as difficult as it may appear. Before starting any demolition work, check the chimney is thoroughly swept or you could have problems when it is blocked up and ventilated. Clear the room of as much furniture as possible and group the remainder in the middle of the room and cover the items with dust sheets. Lift the floor covering around the hearth, unless it is fixed tiling or parquet.
The hearth is usually laid after the surround has been fixed in position, in which case you should remove the hearth first. But if the surround has been placed on top of the hearth, which is rare, you will have to remove the surround first.
Removing the HEARTH
A tiled hearth is usually laid in one piece, whereas a stone hearth will probably have been bedded down in sections. In either case, drive the blade of a long cold chisel under one end of the hearth and lever it away from the floor, using the chisel as a crowbar.
A tiled unit is reinforced and you should be able to lift it in one piece without damaging the tiles. If you do not plan to keep it or sell it, you will find it easier to remove from the room if you break it up into pieces with a club hammer. Inset tiled hearths need not be removed. but can be brought level with the floorboards by using a screeding compound or by gluing hard-board directly to the tiles. If you have a stone fireplace, you may find it is worth selling. In this case, lift each stone carefully and mark with a number to indicate its position in the hearth.
The mortar on which the hearth was bedded may need patching up to leave a smooth surface for a floor covering; use a mix of one part Portland cement, one part hydrated lime and six parts clean builder’s sand – or buy a small bag of ready-mix.
Removing the surround
The surround is usually fixed to the wall by screws or nails inserted through metal lugs, one on cither side about 75mm from the top. Some larger surrounds have more than one fixing on each side. To locate the fixings, strip off any wallpaper: if the positions of the fixings are not obvious after removing the wallpaper, tap the plaster lightly until you hear a change of sound and remove about 50mm of plaster around the lugs using a bolster chisel and club hammer. Remember that the less plaster removed, the easier the repair work will be. Undo the fixing screws; if they are difficult to remove, drill out the heads using a drill bit the same size as the shank. Insert a crowbar behind the edges of the surround, using a block of wood to protect the wall, lever it forwards slowly and lower it to the ground. A ground floor fireplace might be too big and heavy to lake out of the house in one piece; if so. use a club hammer to break it up into small sections, but cover it with sacking first. Stone or BRICK A stone or brick surround is usually built like a wall to lie flat against the chimney-breast. Dismantle the surround piece by piece by setting a wide bolster chisel squarely against the mortar joint and tapping it gently with a club hammer. You should be able to remove most of the bricks intact and, since they will probably be in good condition, it is worth storing them for future use. As you remove the bricks you should find metal ties inserted in the mortar; these help keep the surround in place. To release the ties, simply chip out the mortar.
Tiles Where the surround is made of tiles enclosed by wood, the timber might comprise a single unit or be a separate mantel and side pieces. In either case the timber is usually screwed to battens fixed to the chimney-breast wall. The screws in the surround will not be visible since they will have been sunk below the surface and covered with filler. They can usually be located by tapping lightly round the surround and listening for a change in sound. If not, the decorative finishing material – paint or varnish – will have to be stripped off to reveal the small patches of filler. Dig out the filler and release the screws.
The central tiled area could be fixed directly to the wall, in which case you will have to chip the tiles off, or fixed with metal lugs and screws. Cast iron These are usually fixed to the wall by screws and lugs. Once the fireplace is away from the wall, you may find there is a separate section framing the opening; this will be secured at the back by nuts and bolts and it will probably be easier to undo the fixings and dismantle the fireplace before taking it out of the room. It is best to apply a little penetrating oil to the fixings and leave this to seep into the joints before you try to remove the fixings. Alternatively saw off the heads of the bolts with a hacksaw.
Interior After removing the surround and hearth. knock out the fireback, the sloping throat above and the side cheeks with a club hammer or lever them out with a crowbar. Remove the pieces and the rubble backfilling.
Skirting board If the fireplace is set in a projecting chimney-breast wall, remove the two short pieces of skirting board on either side of the opening. To do this, hammer the bolster behind the boards and lever them off, protecting the wall behind the bolster with scrap wood. If the fireplace is in a long unbroken wall, leave the skirting board in position since it is easier to fill the gap with a matching length later.
With the hearth and surround out of the way, you can now block up the opening. There are two ways of doing this: with bricks or with a panel; the latter is preferable since you can remove the panel should you wish to reopen the fireplace at any time.
Bricking it up
If there is a draught or ash box space below the level of the hearth you will have to form a concrete plinth as a foundation for the brickwork. As a precaution, lay a damp proof course to join up with the existing one.
Using bricks or lightweight building blocks, brick up the opening with a single skin wall; the courses should align with the existing courses either side of the opening ; the front face of the new brickwork should lie flush with the existing brickwork round the opening. Incorporate an airbrick in the centre of the brickwork above skirting level to ensure an adequate flow of air to the flue.
Complete the job by plastering over the bricks -but not the airbrick – to leave the new surface flush with the surrounding plaster. First rake out the joints between the bricks to a depth of about 13mm to provide a good plaster-to-brick key and ensure the plaster is well forced into the joints as work proceeds. If a gap of more than about 13mm Qin is left at the edges where the new bricks meet the existing walls, nail strips of expanded metal over the gap to serve as a backing for the plaster. When the plaster is dry, screw a metal or plastic ventilator plate to the wall over the airbrick.
Fitting a panel
Screw a simple framework of 50 x 25mm battens to the wall inside the opening as a support for a sheet of asbestos or fire-retardant board. Recess the battens from the front of the opening by a distance equal to the thickness of the board being used; this ensures the surface of the board will lie flush with the existing bricks on either side of the opening. Before screwing the board in position, cut a hole in it with a pad saw; a ventilator plate should be fitted over this to stop damp forming. The hole should be about 100 x50mm ; mark its position on the board and drill a hole at one corner; insert the saw in the hole and cut along the guidelines. Fix a length of scrim mesh to cover the joins of the board and the bricks before replastering.
You will need to bring the hearth area up to the level of the existing floor. This is a fairly easy job in the case of a solid floor, but it entails a little more work if you have a timber floor with foundations below, since you must fit a new joist.
Remove any loose rubble infill to a depth of 150mm and pack in fresh concrete, tamping it well down to about 25mm below the existing concrete level. When this is dry. lay a screed of three parts sharp, washed sand and one part cement mixed fairly dry with a little water-proofing agent added. Level the screed flush with the surrounding concrete and allow it to dry thoroughly before matching up the existing floor covering.
Remove all the rubble infill material below the old hearth to provide air space. Fix a new joist close to the wall and spanning the two sleeper walls on either side; cut back the existing floorboards to the nearest joist and fix new boards between this and the chimney-breast.
Fix a new skirting board in the gap and match up decorations on the wall, the skirting and floor covering if you are not redecorating the entire room. To prevent rainwater entering the flue, but to provide adequate ventilation, insert a louvred spigot in the chimney pot or set a half tile in a mortar bed on top of the chimney stack.